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What the Bible says about Blessings and Curses
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 27:11-13

Plain as day, here is a fifty-fifty division of God's people. The six tribes God selects to stand on Ebal were those who descended from Jacob's concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, plus the descendants of Reuben and Zebulun, the oldest and youngest sons of Leah, respectively. Together, they received the curses. God probably chose Reuben to stand on the mountain of the curse because of his incestuous relationship with his father's concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). As a result, Reuben became cursed with the loss of his right of the firstborn (the right of primogeniture), as his father, Jacob, mentions (Genesis 49:4).

The remaining six tribes, situated on Mount Gerizim and representing the blessings that naturally result from obedience, were the tribes descended from Rachel, that is, Joseph and Benjamin, as well as the tribes descended from Leah—save, as mentioned above, those descended from Reuben and Zebulun. (The listing of the tribes on Mount Gerizim appears in their forebears' birth order, while the listing of the tribes on Mount Ebal does not; see Genesis 29-30). It makes sense that the blessings should go to the tribes descended from the actual wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel.

We see developing, then, the blessing-curse dichotomy, which strictly corresponds to another dichotomy, obedience-disobedience. The blessings and curses are just as much opposites as are their respective causes, obedience and disobedience. They are mutually exclusive. Try as one might, an individual cannot obey and disobey the same rule simultaneously.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Three)

Deuteronomy 27:11-13

Both Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal lie west of the Jordan River, Gerizim a bit to the south of Ebal. The peaks of the two mountains are about two miles apart. The Valley of Shechem, which runs between them, is about three miles long and 1,600 feet wide. In this straitened valley, next to the Ark of the Covenant, the priests stood, pronouncing blessings toward Gerizim, curses toward Ebal.

Mount Gerizim rises about 2,840 feet above sea level, while Mount Ebal stands about 3,650 feet tall. Mount Gerizim later became an important center of worship for the Samaritans, whom the Assyrians imported into the land after the fall of ten-tribed Israel (that is, the Northern Kingdom) in 722 BC. The Samaritans eventually built a temple there, which was reputedly torn down by John Hyrcanus in the second century before Christ.

There is some evidence that Herod the Great later built a major temple on Mount Gerizim, a rival to the one he erected in Jerusalem. Archeologists have found remains of a substantial temple complex built there by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD.

When the Samaritan woman told Christ, as recorded in John 4:20, that her forefathers worshipped on “this mountain,” she was referring to Mount Gerizim. To this day, the Samaritans claim (wrongly) that Mount Gerizim is Mount Moriah, the site of Isaac's abortive sacrifice. Samaritans, observing a highly syncretic belief system, still sacrifice lambs on Mount Gerizim on Passover.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Three)

Deuteronomy 27:15

The first-mentioned source of curses is not public or institutionalized idolatry, as practiced by the world's religions, but hidden idolatry, that clandestine—maybe subliminal—elevation of anything before the true God. The reference is to the breaking of the first and second commandments (Exodus 20:2-6). In a modern context, such covert idolatry would include placing career, family, pleasure, or even, more subtly, social status in the church, above the worship of the true God.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:16

The second curse revolves around the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12). Exodus 21:17 mandates death for any person cursing either of his parents. It is noteworthy that disobedience to parents is usually not secret, but overt, often blatant. The word here, though, is not “disobey” but “dishonor.” Dishonor can be a disguised response to parents. The hypocrite can feign honor to parents, all the while secretly loathing them.

Along this line, Mark 7:1-13, where hypocrisy is a significant theme, becomes instructive. Some scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem traveled north to ask Christ why His disciples do not follow the oral tradition. They are referring to the halakha, which Peter, addressing the apostles at the Jerusalem Council years later, calls “a yoke . . . that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus calls His inquisitors hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. They worship God in vain, He avers, since they have abandoned “the commandment of God [holding in its place] the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The sin of the Jewish leadership is hidden—not obvious to the populous, which frequently considered the Pharisees and scribes to be pious. Nevertheless, their sin remains one of grave consequence. Christ concludes in verse 13: “Thus [you make] void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

Significant here is the fact that Christ cites the fifth commandment as His example in this discussion (verses 10-12), namely, the tradition that a man is released from the obligation of caring for his aged parents if he dedicates the funds to the Temple. Christ says that doing so is hypocritical and tantamount to dishonoring parents and to violating God's law.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:16

The second curse spoken from Mount Ebal revolves around the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12). Exodus 21:17 mandates death for any person cursing either of his parents. It is noteworthy that disobedience to parents is usually not secret, but overt, often blatant. The word here, though, is not “disobey” but “dishonor.” Dishonor can be a disguised response to parents. The hypocrite can feign honor to parents, all the while secretly loathing them.

Along this line, Mark 7:1-13, where hypocrisy is a significant theme, becomes instructive. Some scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem traveled north to ask Christ why His disciples do not follow the oral tradition. They are referring to the halakha, which Peter, addressing the apostles at the Jerusalem Council years later, calls “a yoke . . . that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus calls His inquisitors hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. They worship God in vain, He avers, since they have abandoned “the commandment of God [and hold in its place] the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The sin of the Jewish leadership is hidden—not obvious to the populous, which frequently considered the Pharisees and scribes to be pious. Nevertheless, their sin remains one of grave consequence. Christ concludes in verse 13: “Thus [you make] void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

Significant here is the fact that Christ cites the fifth commandment as His example in this discussion (verses 10-12), namely, the tradition that a man is released from the obligation of caring for his aged parents if he dedicates the funds to the Temple. Christ says that doing so is hypocritical and tantamount to dishonoring parents and to violating God's law.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:17

Landmarks are usually nocturnal creatures. When they move, they frequently do so at night, secretly.

The protection of boundary markers provided by God's law bespeaks the propriety of the private ownership of property. When wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites owned no land. Boundaries had no real significance to them, aside from the boundary of the camp at large. Now, coming into inheritance of the Promised Land, and its concomitant subdivision among the tribes, the sanctity of boundary markers becomes vital to the efficient and peaceful functioning of society.

The ongoing use of land obtained by the subterfuge of clandestinely moving landmarks is a superb image of “doing a lie”(Revelation 22:15)—that is, living a lie. As such, it is an image of hypocrisy. Those who make use of land not theirs by falsifying boundaries might well benefit from the theft for generations. (For more details, see Deuteronomy 19:14.)

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:18

See Leviticus 19:14 for more information about this deceitful act—one of trickery. Over the centuries, how many seemingly sincere teachers have misled uninformed and unsuspecting members of God's church? Secularly, the phenomenon of “confidence-men” defrauding the elderly of their savings is a manifestation of this sort of thing.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:19

For details, see Deuteronomy 24:17.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:20

This is the first of four curses that pertain to sexual misbehavior. The example here is that of (usually) covert, incestuous relationships (see Leviticus 18:8; 20:11).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:21

This is probably a catch-all reference pointing to all types of sexual deviancy. In today's world, such sexual misconduct may be quite overt, “in your face,” as it were. These days, people actually put such conduct on parade. In the context of God's people, such practices remain highly “in the closet.” (For more details, see Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:23; 20:15.)

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:22-23

These two curses, the third and fourth curses relative to sexual deportment, are related. The fact that God dedicates a third of the Ebal curses to such matters—usually perpetrated surreptitiously—may indicate the stress He places on sexual purity (see also Leviticus 18:9, 17; 20:14).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:25

The reference is to taking bribes that lead to the death of the innocent, most often in a judicial context. Such bribes are by nature “under the counter,” since the cornerstone of any properly functioning jurisprudence is impartiality (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 10:17-18, I Timothy 5:21; James 2:1, 9). Judges are to be unimpeachably honest, disinterested. This is, of course, in reference to the ninth commandment, forbidding bearing false witness (see Exodus 20:16 and more specifically, Exodus 23:7-8).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:26

This last curse is a clincher, more expansive in scope by far than the others. By its substance as well as its position, it serves to point out that the previous eleven curses serve in aggregate as an encapsulation of all the laws of God. In fact, the curse will come to any person who violates any of the precepts of God's law. There is no room for hypocrisy. The apostle Paul may have had the twelfth curse in mind when he wrote to God's people in Rome: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).

Confirmation of the law does not take place through word but through works, works of overt obedience. As a second witness, consider God's own orders to His prophet Jeremiah:

The Lord said to me, “Listen to the terms of the covenant. Tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I, the Lord God of Israel, have placed a curse on everyone who does not obey the terms of this covenant. It is the covenant I made with their ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, the land that was like a blazing furnace to them. I told them to obey Me and to do everything that I had commanded. I told them that if they obeyed, they would be My people and I would be their God. Then I would keep the promise I made to their ancestors that I would give them the rich and fertile land which they now have.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5, Good News Translation)

Through the same prophet, God tells us that appearances do not fool God. He sees through the mask, recognizing reality clearly: “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 30:1-10

God's regathering of national Israel to the Land of Promise is a major theme of Scripture. (For examples, see; Isaiah 27:12; Jeremiah 16:14-15; Jeremiah 23:7-8; Jeremiah 50:4-5, 19-20; Ezekiel 36:33; Amos 9:11-15; compare Romans 11:11-36.)

Considering only the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 30:1-10 by far contains the fullest revelation of God's commitment to regather scattered Israel to the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 4:30-31 also touches on the topic.) Remarkable in this passage is the repetition of the Hebrew verb shuv, which means "to return," "to restore," "to reverse," or "to revoke." It means "to go back.” Its first use is in Genesis 3:19, where God speaks of Adam's retu?rning to the dust of the ground.

In this passage, sometimes God does the returning, and other times Israel does it. This interplay between actors—God and Israel—reveals a basic principle underlying the relationship between God and His people, the principle of reciprocity. To be dynamic and growing, a relationship with God requires action on the part of God and man. The various uses of shuv in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 illustrate this reciprocity, an interplay of actions and reactions.

  1. Verse 1: Collectively, the peoples of Israel will “call [shuv] to mind” not only the blessings they have enjoyed as a result of obeying God but also the curses they suffer when they disobey Him. They will come to recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between obedience and blessings and between rebellion and curses. In this verse, shuv carries the idea of bringing to mind, or remembering.

    Importantly, however, other scriptures show that it is God, not humans, who initiates the process of repentance. In II Timothy 2:25, the apostle Paul points out that God grants repentance; it is a gift from God. In John 14:26, Jesus teaches us that a function of God's Holy Spirit is to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” Christ will kickstart the whole regathering process by bringing Deuteronomy 28, which specifically relates blessings to obedience and curses to disobedience, to the mind of His scattered people.

  2. Verse 2: The people “return [shuv] to the LORD.” This is clearly something the people do in response to God's initiating repentance. The idea is that distressed Israel will turn to God, that is, repent, as the people reflect on the blessings they once enjoyed and on the curses they are now experiencing.

  3. Verse 3: As a result of Israel's repentance, God will “bring you back [shuv] from captivity,” the captivity they have suffered during the time of Jacob's Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24:21). God here uses shuv in a general sense, meaning to “restore your fortunes” (Christian Standard Bible) or “reverse your exile” (Complete Jewish Bible).

  4. Verse 3: God is more specific in the next clause of verse 3. He does not “restore” by returning Israel to the lands of her exile. Rather, He will “return” for the purpose of gathering His people. The Living Bible has it, “He . . . will come [shuv] and gather you. . . .” Upon His return to earth (Zechariah 14:4), Christ will personally turn His hand to the task of regathering His people Israel to the Promised Land.

  5. Verse 8: Israel “will again [shuv] obey” God. The translators of the Common English Bible lay stress on Israel's repentance by translating shuv as “change”: “You will change and obey.” Frankly, shuv may have double meaning in verse 8, referring 1) to Israel's repentance, a change of mind and action, and 2) Israel's physical returning to the Promised Land. The folk will follow Christ as He leads them to the land, just as He led their ancestors so many centuries earlier, carrying them on metaphorical eagles' wings (Exodus 19:4) out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus.

  6. Verse 9: God, pleased at Israel's new spirit of obedience, “will again [shuv] rejoice” over His people. He will return to a state of joy. Compare Isaiah 62:5; 65:19; Jeremiah 32:41; and Zephaniah 3:17.

  7. Verse 10: As a sort of postscript, God reiterates what He said in verse 2, that Israel's repentance, her “turn[ing] to the LORD,” must be absolutely sincere, “with all your heart and with all your soul.” Such singleness of mind and purpose must be the bedrock of any relationship with God. Compare Deuteronomy 4:29; 6:5; and Matthew 22:37.

Deuteronomy 30:1-10 may be the most concentrated exposition in the Scriptures of the reciprocity God expects in His relationship with His people. There, transaction after transaction illustrates the action-reaction interplay between God and His people.

Charles Whitaker

Deuteronomy 30:1-3

Deuteronomy 30 contains the premier discussion of the restoration of Israel in the Scriptures. While there may be passing intimations of Israel's restoration earlier, it is in this passage that God first introduces most of the significant themes that accompany later treatments of that restoration. The historical setting is Moab, probably about sixty days before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, entering the Land of Promise after almost four decades of wandering. Moses died shortly after he delivered this message from God, and after thirty days of mourning, the people obeyed Joshua's command “to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” See Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1.

It is vital to remember, however, that Moses' message is not merely historical but prophetic; the great leader here introduces the concept of a future restoration of Israel. Note well: He clarifies that his audience is “you and your children.” He understands that he is addressing not only those standing before Him that day on the east side of the Jordan River, but all the descendants of the children of Israel as well. This prophecy pertains to today's descendants of Israel.

In verse 1, Moses establishes the timeframe of the prophecy: When Israelites come to consider the things that have happened to them, “the blessing and the curse which I have set before you.” In the time of Jacob's Trouble (Jeremiah 30:5-7), the folk of Israel will reflect, he says, upon both—that is, both the blessings and the curses. Importantly, it will not be just the agony involved in the afflictions that Israelites will consider in their distress during the Tribulation, but they will contemplate the blessings as well. Israelites will reflect upon the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and peace they enjoyed for decades in the lands of their exile (Northern Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), generation after generation, comparing those blessings against the curses of disease, deprivation, slavery, death, and scattering they are experiencing wholesale in the land of their enemies, where they are held captive.

This prophecy explains why God has determined to prosper Israel in this time of her seemingly boundless decadence, blessing her today despite her high indebtedness, her deindustrialization, and the unprecedented prevalence of her peoples' failing health. It appears to us an unseasonal prosperity, irreconcilable with the depth of America's current depravity.

Does God reward sin? Why is Israel experiencing this prosperity now? One reason is undoubtedly that, during the Tribulation, God wants to ensure that the blessings enjoyed by this last generation of Israelites stand out in their minds from the curses they experience in the Tribulation—and stand out in all the starker relief, as day differs from night, light from dark. This is an application of what psychologists call “Treatment Learning.”

God will use both—blessings and curses—to send Israelites a powerful message. At the end of Isaiah 10:22, God makes an essential point in this regard: “The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.” The destruction God has proclaimed for Israel will be like an overwhelming flood, uniquely vast and deep. Overpowering. Unescapable. Unstoppable.

But for all that, it will be in righteousness. It will be just. Isaiah means that God will fulfill all righteousness, the blessings and the curses of Deuteronomy 28. In fact, this is another way of saying He is faithful to the terms of the covenant—all aspects of the covenant, positive and negative. In Jeremiah 16:18 (New English Translation), God says He will punish Israel “in full” for her sins. But afterward, the blessings He will offer repentant Israel will be beyond belief.

In Matthew 3:15, Jesus tells John the Baptist that it is proper for him, John, to baptize Him in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” At least in part, this phrase means that Christ does not take half measures, but fully loves and obeys God. He takes action to meet God's standards of justice while, at the same time, acting in mercy. He does everything right, punishing in justice, healing in mercy. In the context of His end-time dealings with Israel, God makes this principle explicit in Jeremiah 31:10:He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.”

God's scattering and then His gathering of Israel is yet another application of, respectively, His severity and His goodness. Interestingly, Paul enunciates the concept of God's goodness and severity in the same passage where he writes of God's restoring Israel, Romans 11:19-27.

Charles Whitaker
Israel's Restoration and the Zeitgeist of Zeal

Luke 17:34-37

The disciples' question, “Where, Lord?” appears to be about where all of this would be taking place—including His return, which would initiate the judgment—rather than about where His followers would be taken. In Matthew's account, their original question was about the signs of Christ's coming and the end of the age (see Matthew 24:3, 28), so what appears to have been on their minds were the specifics of His return rather than the location of those “taken.”

As is His pattern, He does not answer their question directly. Instead, His answer applies on multiple levels. Looking at Matthew's and Luke's accounts together, the disciples ask about when and where, since we humans want a specific date and location so we can gauge how these things will affect us personally. God, however, gives principles.

In Scripture, a wake (gathering) of vultures is an indicator of God's judgment for rebellion. In the blessings and curses given to Israel, God warns them, “Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away” (Deuteronomy 28:26). It is a judgment of great shame, one that has been fulfilled in type in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (Psalm 79:1-3).

Under this curse, the Israelites would have no dignity in their deaths; they would have no one to bury them. It symbolizes the height of defeat, disgrace, and personal insignificance, when no defenders are left to keep the scavengers from tearing a human body apart just as they would a dead animal. When God cleans His creation in this way, a person becomes nothing more than a meal for one of the most despised creatures.

But Israelites are not the only ones to receive this shameful judgment. The same fate is prophesied for those fighting against Christ at His return:

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. . . . And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:17-19, 21; see also the prophecy against Gog in Ezekiel 39:17-20)

The followers of the Beast and False Prophet will be killed, and God will specifically call the carrion birds for this gruesome feast. Any alleged return of the Messiah that does not involve this judgment on God's enemies is a lie. These are grisly descriptions but necessary reminders of His view of sin, disobedience, and rebellion against Him. Christ will return at a time when the opposition to Him will have reached a peak and to a place where human governments will have assembled against Him. Moreover, there will be a gathering of scavengers as a sign of God's judgment of shame.

David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered

Acts 5:1-11

The narrative of Ananias and Sapphira provides a dramatic illustration of the fact that God will not accept duplicity in His church. Partial commitment to the truth is not enough. In the case of this ancient couple, He judged “the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” without delay, stopping the lie literally dead in its tracks.

Although unstated in the account, Ananias and Sapphira likely coveted the status and reputation they would receive if God's people came to believe they were “big” contributors. With Satan's prodding (verse 3), they (Sapphira is fully complicit; verse 2) hatched the deceitful plan to sell some property and donate part of the proceeds for the use of the brethren. In reality, they conspire to mislead the church leadership (and ultimately, the brethren at large) into thinking that their generous gift comprised the entire sale price of the land, when in fact they had surreptitiously “kept back” a portion of the proceeds for their personal use. Their level of sacrifice for the needs of the church was not what they led others to believe.

Had God not intervened to abort their plan, they would have lived lives of hypocrisy for who knows how long, daily “practicing” the lie (Revelation 22:15) that they had “given all” to God. Without question, they would have lived the same sort of burdensome lives endured by Joseph's brothers for decades after their clandestine treachery toward their younger brother (see Genesis 37:23-36), as they feared serendipity every moment—a slip of the tongue, the development of an unwelcome and unforeseen circumstance, the vengeance of God, anything which might suddenly reveal the truth to their father, exposing them as the rogues they really were. Theirs was a skulking lifestyle—the way of life of any hypocrite, analogous to perpetually wearing a mask or a disguise to hide the real self, pretending to be one person, all the while being another.

But that is only half of the nasty story. Sir Walter Scott well wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practice to deceive.” The hypocrite, enjoying the benefits of his duplicity (such as wealth, status, etc.) becomes desperately committed to maintaining the façade at any cost, doing all that becomes necessary to keep the charade going, lest he suffer financial, social, or emotional losses that his carnality could not accept. The cause of perpetuating the lie comes to enmesh his spirit. The myth becomes master.

Luke does not specify the amount of money Ananias and Sapphira held back. Was it 5% of the sales price or 20% or 50%? We do not know, and it does not matter! A lie is a lie. There are no “little white lies.” A life of duplicity can develop around any lie, big or little. It will always bear the same fruit, however.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Five)


 




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